NEW YORK >> A little less than two years ago, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's North Korea comedy, "The Interview," spawned the hack of Sony Pictures and a crisis unlike any previous in Hollywood. The experience hasn't done much to tame them.
In the crudely funny but not crudely animated R-rated comedy "Sausage Party," Rogen and Goldberg are again pushing the limits of today's risk-adverse Hollywood — and Sony is still backing them.
"That experience in no way made us more timid, I don't think. If anything, it showed how this (expletive) can really hit the mark in ways that you never imagined it would," says a chuckling Rogen. "But I would probably think twice before killing a living dictator in one of my films."
No foreign country has lambasted "Sausage Party," ("Not yet," notes Rogen). But the comedy's extreme profanity in a medium most associated with Disney makes "Sausage Party" an audacious release for any studio, let alone one brought to its knees by a previous film from the duo.
Rogen and Goldberg (co-writers and producers) have been working for nearly a decade on "Sausage Party," their own warped version of a Pixar movie, complete with a song by "Beauty and the Beast" composer Alan Menken. It's set in a supermarket where food and grocery items believe their salvation lies in being purchased and taken "to the great beyond."
There's some of the existentialism of their apocalyptic comedy "This Is the End" and even hints of the political satire of "The Interview." But there's mostly a staggering amount of double entendre (Rogen stars as a hot dog who dreams of uniting with Kristen Wiig's bun), a prolonged orgy scene and even a villainous douche.
"The real problem getting it made was not the talking douche or the graphic sexual stuff or the specific statements that it made," says Goldberg. "The real thing was: 'Rated-R CG film.' That was the phrase that stopped the studios from making it. There's no model."
The pair — childhood friends from Vancouver turned creative collaborators — spoke separately in recent interviews, Goldberg on the phone from Los Angeles and Rogen over coffee in the East Village, with his dog, Zelda, quietly perched next to him. In some ways, the fiasco of "The Interview" is long behind them. They released their holiday comedy "The Night Before" last November with Sony and have dived into their AMC series "Preacher," among other projects.
But both acknowledge the experience of "The Interview" remains omnipresent. Their office is still on the Sony lot and they've continued to work closely with the studio that, under former head Amy Pascal, fostered their early films.
"I overall remember it sucked. It was just a massive bummer," says Rogen of the hack. "It took a long time to emotionally recover from it."
"We all talk about it all the time and we will forever," says Goldberg. "Seth and I don't agree on what happened, even. He's less sure that it was North Koreans. I'm more sure. But it's not clear. We also have a running theory that someone started it and someone else picked it up."
They say there were many frustrations in the hack — how the media reported it, how the studio handled some aspects of it, how the theaters refused to screen the film. One upside was that the leaked emails spawned a large debate over gender equality and pay in Hollywood, but Rogen doesn't see it that way.
"Is that news, that the world is sexist? That women get paid less than men, especially in Hollywood?" he says. "I guess it's nice when it's written. But you would hope what would come from it is some equality for women and Amy Pascal is, like, the only one who lost her job as a result of it — and was replaced with a man."
Given the trauma of the experience, Goldberg and Rogen wondered what would happen to the long-in-development "Sausage Party," for which the $30 million budget was bankrolled by financier Megan Ellison.
"I was worried, honestly," says Rogen. "When you almost ruin a studio, the question is: Are they going to tank your movie? But we've had all those conversations. We're very frank about it. We're very self-effacing."
"It's super weird. It's a different studio now. Half the people we know are gone, half are still there," says Goldberg. "We had several projects with them. We started even more projects with them. We've had good luck with them because Sony has guts and they do crazy stuff that other studios seem not to."
"Sausage Party," gleefully crude and maybe, in the end, surprisingly thoughtful, is certainly "crazy" by today's ever-narrowing mainstream comedy movie standards. Yet Rogen and Goldberg were able to rope in others: Jonah Hill (who had the original idea), Michael Cera, Salma Hayek (as a taco) and Edward Norton.
"The funniest call was to Meatloaf," says Rogen, who needed permission for a song by the singer. (You can imagine the pun.) "I went on for like five minutes rambling and he was, 'OK, cool. I get it.'"
Audience response has reminded Rogen of how crowds reacted to "This Is the End": "That look of, 'I can't believe this got made." Rogen and Goldberg plan to keep at it. They're hoping to make a sequel.